Pollution by plastic on the planet is a problem that grows like a snowball. We have seen how plastic is everywhere, especially in our oceans, where approximately 9 million tons of these wastes end up, threatening our ecosystems, wildlife and human health.
But there is a type of plastic to which we have not paid attention and which is particularly destructive to the planet: articles made of polyurethane. This polymer is sturdy and used in bicycle seats, hoses, padding inside shoes and packaging materials.
The material has been considered non-biodegradable for a long time because its chemical bonds are very strong. In general, it is reduced by incineration, which releases gases harmful to the ecosystem. In addition, the sun and waves decompose slowly into microplastic particles, becoming a threat to marine life.
Despite the minimal awareness that we have taken on this case, there are people who are dedicating their hours of work and life in search of solutions. And one of them could be in nature.
In 2011, 20 undergraduate students from the Department of Molecular Biochemistry and Biochemistry at Yale University traveled to Ecuador with Professor Scott Strobel for an annual research trip to collect endophyte organisms: fungi or bacteria that live at least part of their lives in symbiosis in the tissues of plants without causing disease. And they discovered a fungus that only eats polyurethane.
The fungus Pestalotiopsis microspora can degrade plastic, but what makes it different from others that have the same capacity, is that it can do so in anaerobic environments (without oxygen), which means that it could potentially thrive at the bottom of landfills, according to commented the scientific team in its article ” Biodegradation of polyester polyurethane by endophytic fungi “, in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology in 2011.